The beneficiaries of two British musicians who provided the backing beats for Jimi Hendrix’s top songs are pursuing a lawsuit against Sony Music Entertainment in order to obtain a portion of the royalties for the songs.
In 1966, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell became members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and contributed to the band’s three studio albums: Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love, and Electric Ladyland. These albums are considered milestones in the genre of psychedelic rock and feature popular songs like Purple Haze, Little Wing, Hey Joe, and Foxey Lady.
With the exception of a few songs written by Redding, Hendrix was responsible for the majority of the group’s repertoire and received all of the songwriting royalties. However, the trio split royalties for the sound recordings they made together before Hendrix passed away at the age of 27 in 1970.
Thinking that there would be no further music released by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and with the profitable era of CD reissues and streaming still years away, the two members signed away their rights in the early 1970s. Redding received $100,000 while Mitchell received $240,000, and both signed documents that prohibited them from filing future lawsuits regarding the earnings.
In 2003 and 2008, Redding and Mitchell passed away. However, the companies managing their estates filed a lawsuit in February 2022, alleging that they have not received their share of royalties from the songs they performed on. The companies argue that both Redding and Mitchell were not adequately compensated for their work and passed away in financial hardship.
Sony tried to dismiss the lawsuit by claiming that the signed statements should prevent it from going to court. However, on Monday, Judge Michael Green of London’s High Court declared that the case could proceed to trial, expectedly in 2025.
Following the decision, attorney Lawrence Abramson, representing the two estates, stated: “There is no denying that Jimi Hendrix was one of, if not the greatest guitarist of all time. However, he did not make his recordings on his own and their success would not have been possible without the contributions of Noel and Mitch.” Sony has not issued a statement regarding the ruling.
Hendrix’s squalling guitar playing and spirited singing, ably backed by the groove-led Redding and Mitchell, have ensured the Jimi Hendrix Experience remain hugely popular in the streaming era, with numerous songs earning hundreds of millions of streams each on Spotify.
Attorneys representing the Redding and Mitchell estates have contended that Sony is not involved in the contracts signed by the duo, and those contracts do not cover legal actions against Hendrix’s heirs. They have also stated that the contracts only include royalties from the North American market.
Redding and Mitchell’s assets are seeking a proportional distribution of royalties according to the original agreement made with Hendrix, with each party receiving 25% and Hendrix receiving 50%. The original lawsuit filed in 2022 aimed to transfer the copyright and recoup lost earnings and interest on that amount, as well as seek compensation for damages and legal expenses.
Efforts to file a lawsuit regarding the distribution of copyright have been in motion since 2003, just before the passing of Redding. His manager, Ian Grant, stated after his death, “Noel told me, ‘Ian, if I do win $5m I’ll only give it away.’ And I have no doubt he would have. It wasn’t about the money. He had been continuously denied his rightful ownership.”
Musicians have been known to prevail in royalties cases against their late collaborators, most notably producer Quincy Jones, who had helmed Michael Jackson’s albums Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. In 2017 he won $9.4m in damages after alleging he was cut out of posthumous deals made by the Michael Jackson estate after the singer’s death.
The Hendrix family has been embroiled in complicated legal disputes in recent times. In 2021, the musician’s sibling and niece were found guilty of disobeying a court order by using the Hendrix name for commercial purposes. They had previously attempted to sell products like cannabis, food, and electronics with the Hendrix name, but were prevented from doing so. The legal action was initiated by companies that hold the rights to Hendrix’s name, which are owned by his father’s adopted daughter, Al.